The following piece is something that I never thought I would write. I also still to this day cannot understand the immense love for Casey Blake that the Indians fans and the organization itself had for this guy. Readers of this site know that I have been a Blake hater for years. But nevertheless, I saw and appreciated his value and there will be a point to all of this.
GM Chris Antonetti may soon be forced into an interesting dilemma. One nobody thought would ever be possible. That is because Jack Hannahan has become an indispensable part of the Cleveland Indians.
Jack was signed as a minor league free agent before the start of last season and was expected to be nothing more than organizational depth. This was a guy who was in the bigs for parts of four seasons, but never was any sort of factor. Hannahan spent the entire 2010 season in AAA where he hit just .237. Then thanks to a Jason Donald broken hand, Jackie became the starting third baseman. Nobody expected him to stick around all season with the big club, let alone keep the hot corner gig.
He opened the 2011 season showing more pop than he ever has, busting out with a .273/.349/.829/4 HR/14 RBI April while the Indians sprinted into first place. The bat came crashing down to earth in May (.184/.271/.484), and June (.180/.296/.591) where he lost his job, and July (.207/.281/.592). All of the while, Hannahan was playing gold glove defense at third. But then in mid-August with the Indians searching for any kind of spark with the Tigers nipping at their heels and injuries popping up all over the diamond, they turned back to Jack and he caught fire.
He hasn’t stopped since.
The left-handed hitter closed the season strong, beat out uber-prospect Lonnie Chisenhall for the third base job in spring training, and just kept on going. Defense has always been his calling card, but the offense he has been showing since last August is borderline stunning.
Going back to last August (h/t to Jordan Bastian of Indians.com), Hannahan is hititng .374 (46-123) with four homers and 32 RBIs in 40 games. He has given the bottom of the order the pop that it has sorely needed. And we can’t forget how clutch the guy has been. He has started 6-8 with two outs and runners in scoring position this season. Every time the Indians have needed a big hit, there Jackie has been coming through. Plus, he is doing all of this while being a stellar defender at third.
Is this real or is this an illusion? Is Hannahan the late bloomer who is finally thriving at age 32 in a comfortable environment? Does this sound familiar to any of you?
Back in 2003, the Indians signed a guy who had bounced between AAA and the majors for five seasons in Toronto, Baltimore, and Minnesota to a minor league deal with a chance to make the club out of spring training. He wound up becoming their every day third baseman (and right-fielder for two seasons) for the next six years by showing up every day at the ball park and doing his job with little fan fare. He never put up “great” numbers (though look at his 2004 season when he hit 28 homers and drove in 88 RBIs) but he was a solid, unspectacular player for manager Eric Wedge (who LOVED him to a fault by the way).
That guy was Casey Blake.
You can see the similarities between the two players. They are both solid, well respected, hard-working players who are popular with their clubhouse. Both were essentially on their last chance to make it in the big leagues and were given a chance by the Indians to succeed. Lastly, both were/are a huge part of the makeup of their respective teams.
Another similarity that can’t be overlooked; both had/have the top position player prospect right behind them ready to take their job. With Blake, it was Andy Marte in 2007. You remember, the Indians took a flyer on Aaron Boone, coming off of his knee injury for the 2005 season, which moved Blake to right field. In 2006, Marte was brought in to be the third baseman of the future, and by 2007, he was the opening day starter. Casey was actually playing first base to start that season. But as Marte flamed within a month, the Indians turned to Ryan Garko at first, moving Blake back to third where he would stay for another two seasons.
Everyone knows Hannahan is supposed to be a stop gap at the hot corner until Chisenhall is ready. But Lonnie’s plate discipline still needs work, as does his glove work. In the meantime, Hannahan is playing like an all star for the Indians. So what should the Tribe do?
What I am going to say next is probably insane, but I will bring it up anyways. Yes, I know we have all seen two-month wonders like this before. They come and they go. But what if Hannahan isn’t a fluke? What if he is the next Casey Blake, a guy who the Indians unearthed and can be used for the next two to four years on the cheap?
There is no secret that this team has holes. First base and the outfield are two spots that the Indians do not have long term solutions in AA or AAA. Maybe the Tribe should consider moving Chisenhall across the diamond to first base for next season. Casey Kotchman is clearly not the future and unless he shows a dramatic turnaround will probably only be in Cleveland for this season. Or why not try to see if Chisenhall can handle left field in winter ball? Grady Sizemore won’t be back next year, Michael Brantley will be back in center field, and again the Tribe will spend the offseason trying to find someone to play left field. Shelley Duncan could be that guy, but the Tribe brought in 38-year old Johnny Damon to platoon with him. That says something.
Chiz is still young and is clearly apart of the 2013 plans. Hannahan could be too. Again, I know this is me talking about this at the end of April and Jackie could easily fall right off the table, but what if he doesn’t? There can be a place for both Chisenhall and Hannahan in 2013.
And…..cue the commenters calling me crazy.